With a border that stretches from the Verrazano to 65th Street, with the Narrows and 278 to the West and East, Bay Ridge takes up a lot of ground in South Brooklyn. The expansive neighborhood doesn't just cover a lot of physical territory, however, as it's also home to dozens of different populations from white collar Irish to Middle Eastern and yes, even to young professionals who recently "discovered" the neighborhood.
That's all to say that Bay Ridge has something to offer everyone when it comes to eating and drinking. Do you like old school pizza? They've got it. Do you want a plate piled high with shwarma? Yup. How about Scandinavian pastries for what ails you? Check.
To talk about every fantastic place in Bay Ridge within the confines of one story would be almost impossible, but we've laid out a few of our favorites, the spots we visit whenever we find ourselves in the neighborhood. Read on for some of the best bites and sips in this dynamic Brooklyn neighborhood.
GRAND SICHUAN HOUSE The tongue-numbing effects of Sichuan peppercorns are in perfect display at this 8-year-old neighborhood staple, where everything from the Dan Dan Noodles to the dumplings are doused in the bright red spice. In fact, owner David Chan makes his hot red oil every single day to his specifications, a distinction he says should be the hallmark of every good Sichuan eatery. The care shows through in Chan's dishes, which span the fiery to the garlicky to the refreshing, hitting every note in between.
Of the myriad dishes on the menu, be sure not to miss the Sichuan Wonton with Red Oil ($3.95), succulent purses of pork (or shrimp) doused in the restaurant's house-made oil and finely minced garlic. The vampire's bane shows up again in a crunchy Cucumber with Fresh Garlic dish ($5.85) whereas dry sautéed String Beans are given a boost from salty minced pork. Don't miss out on the Sliced Lamb with Cumin Flavor ($14.95) or the fiery Chong Qing Spicy Chicken ($12.95) studded with fiery dried peppers and more sichuan peppercorn flavor.
8701 Fifth Avenue, (718) 680-8887; website
PIZZA WAGON Since 1966 this Fifth Avenue staple has been dishing up quality slices at friendly prices to locals looking for a quick fill-me-up. The pizzeria has exactly the kind of throwback atmosphere you'd expect from a longtime neighborhood joint, complete with orange plastic booths and backlit menu with those little letters that click into place. They do a quality regular slice here, of course, but they're really known for the Sicilians ($2.50), with a thick, fluffy dough and a satisfying cheese bomb on the top. Get a corner slice for maximum crunch-to-cheese ratio.
8610 Fifth Avenue, (718) 836-5725
EL PUENTE When the taco cravings strike, this no-frills, family-run Mexican spot delivers with inexpensive but filling tacos ($2.50) all made to order on the flattop. Take a seat at the counter and watch as lengua (beef tongue), chorizo and al pastor meats are browned on the grill alongside fresh corn tortillas dipped in oil. For an even more substantial (and dirt cheap) option, try the shop's tortas ($6), layered with cheese, mayo, beans, jalapenos, tomatoes, onions and avocado, plus a choice of fillings like Milanese de Pollo (breaded chicken) or bistec (steak).
"It's the kind of place where you'll walk in and the owner will be taking care of her baby, then put her in front of the TV so she can run to the flattop and make you a burrito—and that burrito is slamming and the size of a house cat," gushes Allison Robicelli, whose bakery is just a few storefronts down the avenue. "Things like that remind me what America is all about."
9300 Fifth Avenue, (718) 921-2580
ROBICELLI'S BAKERY If you've heard of a little something called Nutellasagna, then you've heard of this native couple's eponymous bakery—which is so much more than this now world-known food mashup. Allison and Matt Robicelli have been baking up delectable treats at their Fifth Avenue digs since 2013, but have been longtime fixtures of the neighborhood's culinary scene, having operated a Third Avenue deli and wholesale operation until 2009.
But it's their cupcakes that have been longtime favorites of both local sweet tooths and drawn in visitors from outside the neighborhood, busting out in flavors like Root Beer Float, Butterbrew (think butterstock taken to the max) and The Elvis (banana cake, peanut butter buttercream and candied bacon). Cupcakes are very far from "over" when they're like this. Those in addition to the piles of other goodies the bakery makes, from layer cakes to brownies to puddings and beyond.
9009 Fifth Avenue, (917) 509-6048; website
ALC ITALIAN GROCERY Louis Coluccio Jr. has been in the food business since birth, having grown up around his grandfather's Bensonhurst specialty foods store, which first opened in 1964. Fast forward to 2012, when Coluccio struck out on his own to open this fully-stocked grocery, prepared foods and perfect picnic pickup spot on a busy stretch of 3rd Avenue. Like the family store, ALC is making everything in-house, from their sell-out porchetta and eggplant tortas to pastas salads and roasted vegetables.
Their cheese case, stocked with Kunik (a triple creme goat cheese) and espresso-coated varieties, is also a huge hit, especially for people stocking up on an antipasti plate loaded with Red Table meats, chickpea salad and a bag of house-made crostini.
Given its relative distance from the kale capital of Brooklyn, was it difficult for Coluccio to convince locals to down the frilly green stuff? "I will admit, kale was slow to catch on, but as we leaked the dressing and offered tastes to customers that would never eat kale, they soon converted," he tells us. "We have some customers who say they absolutely hate sweet potatoes, but love ours. So who knows! We sometimes set up these limits in our heads about the foods we will and will not like." Hear, hear.
8613 3rd Avenue, (718) 836-3200; website
THE OWL'S HEAD Bay Ridge might not be the first place you think of when talking natural wines and craft beers, and yet, here's The Owl's head, a four-year-old spot doing just that. Owner John Avelluto stocks his place with a lineup of biodynamic and sustainable vinos with a mind towards global producers of the smaller variety. His goal: to combat the standoffish label that wines have gotten and bring it all down a few notches. He even developed a new language to talk about wine, which he calls "face forward," an abandonment of the esoteric descriptors that plague many conversations about wine.
The list changes frequently, but you can always snag the Owl's Red, a blend made specially for the bar by the Red Hook Winery. They've also got a strong beer program—with "archetypal" beers of the German and British styles—with origin stories predominantly in New York State. Be on the lookout for the brews by Grimm, an artisanal beer company that employs a "nomadic" brewing style whereby they're shifting production from one spot to the next.
479 74th Street, (718) 680-2436; website
LESKE'S BAKERY After over half a century in Bay Ridge, Leske's has firmly established itself in the culinary fabric of the neighborhood. It's a bakery in the truest sense of the word; everything is baked at their Fifth Avenue facility, leaving just enough room for a long glass case to display all the goodies. Seating inside? Fuggedaboutit. Luckily, many of their treats are meant to be consumed sans knife and fork, like their legendary Black and Whites ($2.50), oodles of cookies and maple bacon-covered doughnuts ($1.75).
But for the ultimate hostess gift or to snag brownie points with visiting family, be sure to snag one of their Kringlers ($11), pretzel-shaped pastries filled with fruits like apricot and raspberry. Then there are the incredible Pecan Rings ($14.75), frosted and topped with nuts and cheese, if you wish. There's almost no end to the parade of delicious baked goods they offering, from their traditional Scandinavian rye bread, Irish soda bread, almond croissants, cheese cake, black out cake, danish, breads and rolls.
7612 Fifth Avenue, (718) 680-2323; website
KARAM "You know a place is good when it's the size of a shoe closet, has looked the same for 20 years, and is always packed to the gills with middle eastern men." That's how Allison Robicelli describes this lively schawarma spot, where they're roasting seasoned meats right in the window and displaying all sorts of other Middle Eastern treats in glasses cases inside. You'll find quite a few of these no frills spots to grab an inexpensive plate of falafel in the neighborhood, but the playful staff and generous portions here make this a local favorite.
They're not going to win any design awards, but it's what's inside the pita the counts. Like thinly shaved marinated lamb ($5), spicy beef and lamb sausages ($7.50) and babaghanouj ($5) topped with tahini. Don't miss out on a segment of baklava ($1.50) or a Maamoul cookie ($1.75) filled with dates, walnuts and pistachios.
8519 4th Avenue, (718) 745-5227; website
PIPIN'S PUB During the day, this longtime (over 40 years) Bay Ridge pub plays host to a steady crew of dudes who congregate at the bar's long, handsome bar to chat and relax. Come dinner, it's folks seeking a quality pub burger, an order of the bar's much loved chicken wings or more substantial dinner fare like steaks and pork chops.
It's also the kind of place you're equally likely to spot a 30-year-old dude dancing on the bar as things can get rowdy on Friday and Saturday nights—or during home team football games. Despite the mirth—or perhaps because of it—Pipin's has been a beacon for neighborhood folks of all types who appreciate quality pub grub in a place that won't pull a record scratch when a newbie walks in.
9701 3rd Avenue, (718) 833-1183
LOCK YARD Lock Yard was touted as a hipster bar when it first opened, with owner Tommy Casatelli citing the people "wearing the hipster uniform" at his other neighborhood bar Kettle Black. And thus, this circusy beer hall was born. It probably wouldn't pass muster as hipster in Williamsburg—craft beer is universal these days—but that's precisely why people like it.
Since it's summer, take advantage of the bar's expansive back yard decked out in paper lanterns and twinkling strings of lights come nighttime. Sip on the aforementioned craft selection, including Left Hand Milk Stout and Knee Deep Imperial Tanilla, plus the Original Blend from Downeast Cider. The bar food skews stoner, with hot dogs like The Bridgeview ($4.50)—bacon-wrapped and deep fried, if you please—and The Hot Mess ($9.95), a basket of waffle frieds, sweet potato tater tots, chili, cheese, pickled jalapenos, banana peppers, diced white onions, diced tomato and sour cream.
If you're thinking tacos instead of tater tots, head to Casatelli's third joint Ho'Brah on Third Avenue.
9221 Fifth Avenue, (718) 333-5282; website
PETIT OVEN "My inspiration is the market and a garden where I grab most of the salad greens and herbs for the restaurant," explains Petit Oven chef Katarzyna Ploszaj. "It's pretty amazing when you see something grow from a seed to the plate." The farm-to-table ethos may be rote for other parts of the borough, but when this tiny bistro opened in 2007 they were one of the few—and perhaps only—offering an eatery with a real eye towards food origins in the area. Along with her partner Nicole Guarino who runs the front of house, Ploszaj's offers seasonal dishes and a homey environment that have transcended any suspicions about any high-minded hipster influx.
The restaurant is currently offering a Korean BBQ Rohan Duck Breast with a sugar snap peas and foie gras stir fry, in case you had it in your head that this was virtuous health food. While dishes rotate upon availability of produce, favorites like Salmon Tartare with dijon horseradish cream and crispy latkes plus a dessert of Bread Pudding with a salted caramel sauce, walnuts and cream are almost always on offer, making it a destination for both neighborhood visitors and locals craving something familiar and delicious.
276 Bay Ridge Avenue, (718) 833-3443; website
DELISIO CONFECTIONS It would probably surprise many people to know that a former Charles Schwab stockbroker is turning out some of the tastiest, most luscious chocolates in South Brooklyn, but that's exactly what's happening at this small confections shop run by Anthony Deliso. Open since 2012, the shop specializes in beautiful and delicious truffles, bonbons, chocolate bars, brittles, caramels and literally dozens of other sweets. Delisio makes everything in-house from scratch—much of it on a daily basis—ensuring the freshest ingredients and not a stale bit of chocolate in sight.
278 87th Street, (718) 567-7600; website
BROOKLYN BEET COMPANY If you don't like communal seating, you may not get on board with the third in the fleet of Korzo restaurants. If you like delicious burgers, however, this is a must-see on your tour of Bay Ridge. Billed as a "Farm to (Communal) Table," the railroad-style eatery is one place you can nab the Korzo Burger: a beef patty topped with applewood-smoked bacon, Allgauer Emmentaller cheese, an organic ale mustard and dill pickle...wrapped in langos bread and then deep fried.
If you'd like to keep your arteries open for a few more trips around the sun, consider the restaurant's lighter fare, like Steamed PEI Mussels ($16) in a fragrant shallot, cilantro, jalapeno, pork belly and mushroom broth or the Organic Quinoa Trout Salad ($17), stuffed with arugula, blackened corn, summer squash, trout and a poached farm egg.
7205 3rd Avenue, (347)-492-0020; website
Sincerest thanks to the following individuals for sharing their passion for and knowledge of Bay Ridge with this author to create a slice of this eclectic, dynamic neighborhood: Allison Robicelli, David Jacobson, Sarah Zorn, Matthew Maceda and Matthew Piland.